Unlike many cities in the sub-continent, Gangtok remained as an unknown hamlet. According to the epigraphists, not much is known about the early history of Gangtok. The region has never been subservient to any monarchial rule due to which the region remained unnoticed for several decades. The city became popular only in the year 1840 with the construction of a Buddhist monastery. With the establishment of 'Enchey Monastery' in Gangtok, the place became an important Buddhist learning centre, which followed the order of Vajrayana Buddhism in the region. On the economic front, the city still remained underdeveloped and did not see much progress. It was only after the British Indian-Tibet war that the place was noticed as a potential flourishing trade route in the region. After the war, the mountain passes were opened up for trading activity with the neighboring regions. The state of Sikkim remained autonomous for a short while. Read on to know more about the history of Gangtok in the following sections.
Although the city's early history remains unknown and vague, the place earned its name as a popular Buddhist learning centre in India. The oldest citation of Gangtok can be traced back to the year 1716 with the construction of a small monastery. During that period, the province served as a rural community of Buddhist monks. After the establishment of the Enchey Monastery in 1840, the place became an important religious centre. Legend states that a sage by the name Padmasambhava, who spread the teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism in Bhutan and Tibet, suppressed the powers of protecting deities like Khangchendzonga, Yabdean and Mahakala, present in the monastery.
The state of Sikkim allied with the British in order to fight off invaders from Nepal. This involved the intervention of English officials in the region. It was in the 19th century that the British understood its military and trading prospective in the region. By the early 1900s, colonial India wanted to establish its bilateral relationship with Tibet. During 1903 and 1904, Tibet was invaded by the British on the pretext of preventing the Russian Empire from capturing the region. The British officials had set up a military garrison in one of the districts of Tibet. Gangtok during this time became a regular halting point among merchants travelling between Tibet and Colonial India. During this period, Gangtok was a flourishing town. Apart from the growth in trade, the town's infrastructure and communication sectors also grew. By the end of the nineteenth century, the city saw constructions of roads and buildings and the installation of a telegraph centre. Thutob Namgyal, who was the reigning 'chogyal' (emperor) during that period, shifted his capital in the year 1894, to Gangtok. This, in turn, raised the significance of Gangtok. The king of Sikkim then ordered the construction of a palace and other state buildings in Gangtok.
After India's independence in 1947, the state of Sikkim including the territory of Gangtok was considered to be a 'geo-political entity' commonly known as a 'nation state'. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru signed a treaty with the royal chogyal monarchs in the region stating that the place would remain suzerain to India if Sikkim was allowed to maintain its independency. The 'Nathula' and 'Jelepla' passes located near Gangtok were responsible for the growth of the silk trade in the region. The path leading to these two passes was called as the ’silk route' and connected to several countries in Europe, North Africa and West Asia. In 1962, when the Sino-Indian war took place, the trading mountain passes where closed until 2006, due to the rising hostility present in the area. By 1975, the monarchy of Sikkim was withdrawn and Sikkim became an Indian state with Gangtok as its capital.